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Posts Tagged ‘ethnic studies’

by Wayne Au

wayneheadshotThis post is an excerpt from the introduction to our new and expanded 2nd edition of Rethinking Multicultural Education: Teaching for Racial and Cultural Justice published just last week.   

Rethinking Multicultural Education: Teaching for Racial and Cultural Justice, second edition, has been a long time coming. Over its almost 30 years of existence, Rethinking Schools has published more than 200 articles that dealt explicitly with issues of race and culture. Even though Rethinking Schools has always kept racial and cultural justice amongst our main focal points, until the first edition of Rethinking Multicultural Education in 2009, we had never published a book that specifically focused on race and culture in education in their own right. This book does just that: provide a Rethinking Schools vision of anti-racist, social justice education that is both practical for teachers and sharp in analysis.

It is my hope that the selections included in the second edition of Rethinking Multicultural Education: Teaching for Racial and Cultural Justice offer a more robust and powerful definition of multicultural education than we see so often used. For instance, some educators and teacher educators say they teach multicultural education, but do it under the guise of “global education.” This form of multiculturalism feels safer to some because it uses the veneer of international cultures to avoid more serious and painful realities of issues like racism. Similarly, “diversity education” and “cultural pluralism” get used with the singular intent of promoting heroes and holidays and celebrate individual differences, again circumventing issues of power and privilege.

RME2_cvrThe terms “diverse students” and “urban students,” two more stand-ins for “multicultural” students, have devolved into meaning “poor African American and Latino students” or “students who aren’t white.” This is particularly ironic given that in some school districts in the United States, schools might be approaching 100 percent African American or Latino students, as is the case in Detroit and Santa Ana, California, respectively, and are regularly referred to as “diverse” by professors, teachers, and politicians alike. The right wing has also developed its own, sometimes contradictory definitions of multicultural education. While some conservatives have vehemently attacked multicultural education as representative of the downfall of Western Civilization, others such as E. D. Hirsch (founder of the Core Knowledge curriculum) have developed a different definition of multicultural education. As Kristen Buras, professor of education at Emory University, talks about in her book, Rightist Multiculturalism, Hirsch’s Core Knowledge curriculum has recently taken up the banner of multicultural education by defining the United States as a multicultural nation of diverse immigrants—while simultaneously covering up systematic oppression based on class, race, and nation status.

Multicultural education is also being narrowly defined as a path students can take to “higher” status literature. Teachers use Tupac’s lyrics to move students to Shakespeare; students can unpack hip-hop lyrics as a way to learn literary language like stanza and rhyme, but they need to study Frost and Yeats to be considered well read. Students in regular classes can read “thug” literature, but AP classes need to read the classics. (Does anyone read Morrison as a precursor to Chaucer? She’s harder than the Canterbury Tales). This version of multicultural education focuses on access to the canon of high-status knowledge. In doing so, such a definition not only keeps the Eurocentric canon of knowledge at the heart of “real” education, it also communicates to students the idea that the diversity of their identities, lives, and communities do not really matter when it comes to learning.

The second edition of Rethinking Multicultural Education is an attempt to reclaim multicultural education as part of a larger, more serious struggle for social justice, a struggle that recognizes the need to fight against systematic racism, colonization, and cultural oppression that takes place through our schools. In the chapters included here, multicultural education:

  • is grounded in the lives of our students.
  • draws on the voices and perspectives of those “being studied.”
  • teaches through dialogue.
  • critically supports students’ identities.
  • embraces and recognizes the value of students’ home languages.
  • critiques school knowledge, knowledge that has historically been Eurocentric.
  • invites students to engage in real social and political issues.
  • creates classroom environments where students can meaningfully engage with each other.
  • is rigorous, and recognizes that academic rigor is impossible without it.
  • connects to the entire curriculum.
  • is rooted in an anti-racist struggle about which knowledge and experiences should be included in the curriculum.
  • celebrates social movements and the fight against nativism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.
  • explores how social, economic, and cultural institutions contribute to inequality.

It is critical that I take a moment here to address an issue regarding how I am defining “multicultural” in this book. Some friends and allies, for instance, critiqued the first edition of Rethinking Multicultural Education for focusing too narrowly on typical categories of race, ethnicity, and culture, to the exclusion of more expansive definitions of “multiculturalism” that might include, for instance, an attention to the identities of LGBTQ youth in our classrooms and curriculum, or to the religious diversity of our students and communities. I understand and appreciate these concerns. The identities of our students and their communities are diverse and exceedingly complex, and certainly one approach is to define “multiculturalism” in ways to match every aspect of those identities—every aspect of “difference.” My answer in conversation with these friends and allies has been along two lines. First I attend to the context of Rethinking Schools itself. Two of our earlier, widely used books, Rethinking Our Classrooms Volumes 1 & 2, take up a broad definition of teaching for social justice, and in doing so, both volumes seek to embrace an expansive definition of culture, and also span grade levels and subject areas. Granted these two volumes are not perfect, but in many ways, my choice of focusing on more typically defined notions of race, culture, and ethnicity was a conscious one within the context of Rethinking Schools. We had already worked with the more expansive notion of culture in those two volumes, but had yet to take up a book that focused on race, racism, and the ways culture intertwines with them. The second part of my decision to define “multiculturalism” in the manner that I have for Rethinking Multicultural Education is connected to my experience teaching multicultural education and diversity courses at the university level. As I discussed earlier in this introduction, I worry that multiculturalism has been equated with “diversity” and has become the “everyone else” category. Teacher education credential coursework at many universities, for instance, require some sort of “diversity” class as a part of their core sequence of courses. Although I generally believe in the importance of requiring such courses and certainly do not want them taken out of teacher credential programs, the “every aspect of difference” nature of these classes oftentimes means that students—future teachers in this case—may talk about race, privilege, and myriad issues associated with diversity but give short shrift to the painful and powerful systemic racism, the legacies of colonization, and the realities of cultural oppression.

To be clear, I’m not opposed to more expansive definitions of multiculturalism and diversity, and I’m open to hearing the critiques of my friends, colleagues, and allies regarding the definition of multiculturalism I’ve chosen within the context of Rethinking Schools as a whole and the field of multicultural education as it currently exists. But this book represents the need to defend the conscious and explicit attention to race and ethnicity, and the aspects of culture that extend from them, as I have done here in this second edition of Rethinking Multicultural Education.

Read the rest of Wayne’s introduction >>

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Earlier this month, we set up shop at the annual meeting of the National Association for Multicultural Education (NAME). It’s always a joy to see old friends and meet folks who are new but no less passionate about multicultural education.

If you follow our blog, you likely share this passion, and know that Rethinking Schools has offered insights and resources on critical, multicultural teaching since our inception in 1986.

carberry-1

Here are a few examples, free to all friends of Rethinking Schools:

Decolonizing the Classroom: Lessons in Multicultural Education,
by Wayne Au
Multicultural education has to be based on dialogue, both among students and between students and teachers.

“If There Is No Struggle…” Teaching a People’s History of the Abolition Movement, by Bill Bigelow
Students “become” members of an abolitionist organization and grapple with the strategic dilemmas faced by one of the most significant U.S. social movements.

Multiculturalism: A Fight for Justice, by the editors of Rethinking Schools
The introduction to a special report on multicultural education.

Precious Knowledge: Teaching Solidarity with Tucsonby Devin Carberry
A high school history teacher centers a study of social movements on the fight over the Mexican American Studies program in Tucson. His students spread the knowledge.

These articles are free to read for our subscribers. Subscribe today to gain access! (All subscribers enjoy access to our online archives. If you have a subscription, but are not sure how to activate your online account, please call customer service at 1-800-660-4192.)

What Do You Mean When You Say Urban?: Speaking honestly about race and students, by Dyan Watson
“Urban” has become one of a series of euphemisms for African American and Latina/o students. What preconceptions hide behind the language?

The Other Internment: Teaching the Hidden Story of Japanese Latin Americans during WWII, by Moé Yonamine
A role play engages students in exploration of a little-known piece of history-the deportation of people of Japanese origin from Latin American countries to U.S. internment camps.

Diversity vs. White Privilege: An Interview with Christine Sleeterby Bob Peterson and Barbara Miner
Christine Sleeter explains why multiculturalism, at its core, is a struggle against racism, and must go beyond an appreciation of diversity.

Putting Out the Linguistic Welcome Mat, by Linda Christensen
Honoring students’ home languages builds an inclusive classroom.

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In every issue of our magazine, our editors and contributors hand-pick a variety of books, films, websites, and other media for all ages.

Here are seven resources we recommended in our fall issue.

The Speech_frontThe Speech: The Story Behind Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Dream,
by Gary Younge
171 pp., $19.95

You may know Gary Younge from his fine columns on race and politics in The Nation magazine. Here Younge offers the riveting story behind one of the most famous speeches in U.S. history, Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” address at the August 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The book includes a chapter on “the moment”—an especially valuable look at both the national and international context of 1963; background on the march; an analysis of the speech itself; and commentary on the legacy of the march and speech. As Younge wrote recently: “Relatively few people know or recall that the Kennedy administration tried to get organizers to call [the March on Washington] off; that the FBI tried to dissuade people from coming; that racist senators tried to discredit the leaders; that twice as many Americans had an unfavorable view of the march as a favorable one.” This is important background for teachers, but also readable by many high school students.

resources-staysolidStay Solid! A Radical Handbook for Youth,
edited by Matt Hern and the Purple Thistle Centre
319 pp., $20

There may be school libraries that would deem this book too risqué or soft on drugs. But Stay Solid! A Radical Handbook for Youth is a remarkable assembly of testimonies, stories, advice, poetry, cartoons, lessons, short essays, and “other stuff to check out” from more than 100 radical activists divided into diverse subjects, including family, race, gender, school, friends, sex, disability, indigenous struggles, ecocide, and “your physical body.” Sprinkled throughout are rich, evocative quotes. This is not a G-rated book. The text does not adhere to a “Say no to drugs” admonition, and it is joyfully sex-friendly. As one young Teaching for Change intern wrote in recommending this book, “These views are incredibly important in supporting youth to be agents of their own decisions and, at the same time, are radically different from mainstream views.”

EdActivistAlliesEducating Activist Allies: Social Justice Pedagogy with the Suburban and Urban Elite,
by Katy M. Swalwell
161 pp., $41.95

Katy Swalwell opens this unique book with a quote from the late Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire: “In the egoistic pursuit of having as a possessing class, [the oppressors] suffocate in their own possessions and no longer are; they merely have.” For Swalwell, a Rethinking Schools contributor, critical teaching for social justice benefits everyone—even the very privileged. As such, this work contributes to building a more just society for us all. In this accessible, story-rich volume, Swalwell offers example after example of how educators in different elite contexts attempt to teach for social justice—described in many instances through her own careful observations of their teaching. Interviews with students offer a window into how this teaching was received. This is a valuable book for any educator trying to clarify what it means to teach for social justice, but especially for those who find themselves teaching the children of the wealthy.

resources-gaslandGasland II, directed by Josh Fox
125 min.

High-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas—more commonly known as “fracking”—is one of the scariest technologies on the planet. A recent open letter from Pennsylvania residents described the effects of fracking: “In short, water contamination has been widespread; our air has been polluted; countless individuals and families have been sickened; farms have been devastated, cattle have died, and our pristine streams and rivers have turned up dead fish . . . and our communities have been transformed into toxic industrial zones with 24/7 noise, flares, thousands of trucks, and increased crime.” Josh Fox’s new film Gasland II illuminates this grim reality. With a blend of storytelling, outrage, science, and, yes, humor, Fox offers a student-friendly look at this technology from hell. The first Gasland film—which featured the now infamous images of residents lighting their kitchen tap water on fire—was nominated for an Academy Award. As Julie Treick O’Neill writes in her Summer 2012 Rethinking Schools article on teaching this earlier film, “Fox was a hit with my students: He was real enough, cool enough, and smart enough to take on fracking.” Gasland II is an important resource to help our students navigate the world’s disturbing new fossil fuel terrain. For middle school and high schools classrooms.

resources-asfastAs Fast As Words Could Fly, by Pamela M. Tuck,
Illustrated by Eric Velasquez
32 pp., $18.95

Based on her father’s experience in 1960s North Carolina, Pamela Tuck tells how a family and community challenge racism where they work, shop, and go to school. The protagonist, 14-year-old Mason, is the letter writer for the local African American civil rights committee. In appreciation, they give him a typewriter. His typing skills help him open doors when he attends the formerly all-white high school. There is no sugarcoating of the racism Mason faces. In fact, when he wins a county typing competition, not one audience member applauds. Instead, Mason finds love, admiration, and strength from his family and community. This picture book could be used to introduce the history beyond the big demonstrations about the fight for civil rights. It would lend itself well to a group read and discussion, and could also be a wonderful source of prompts for writing from the perspective of different characters. For grade 3 and above.

resources-democracynow

Democracy Now! Hosts Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez
(free podcasts)

We previously included Democracy Now! in the Rethinking Schools resources section. But, as we begin a new school year, we thought that it was worth reminding people that, in our judgment, this is the best Monday-through-Friday news broadcast in the United States. The news headlines that open each hour are a rundown of vital stories often ignored or distorted in the mainstream media. Headlines are followed by several in-depth reports, many of which make ideal classroom viewing: striking fast-food workers, conflict in Egypt, NSA revelations, stop-and-frisk policing, the true history of the 1963 March on Washington, drone strikes, the Trayvon Martin tragedy, the climate crisis, and more. One recent episode that could and should be used in class is Cornel West’s critical commentary on President Obama’s talk on race relations following the acquittal of George Zimmerman. Each broadcast is available as simple audio or as audio/video. All are archived and available for free at the website.

resources-ifieverIf I Ever Get Out of Here, by Eric Gansworth
373 pp., $17.99

Eric Gansworth’s first young adult coming-of-age novel hits a home run. The main character, Lewis “Shoe” Blake, navigates relationships with family and friends on and off the upstate New York Tuscarora Reservation in the mid-1970s. Debbie Reese, editor of the website American Indians in Children’s Literature, alerted us to the novel. She explains that it offers “a rare but honest look at culture and how people with vastly different upbringings and identities can clash. And dance. And laugh. Gansworth informs readers about cultural difference, but he doesn’t beat anyone up as he does it.” Young adult author Cynthia Leitich Smith calls it “a heart-healing, mocs-on-the-ground story of music, family, and friendship.”

v28.1This collection of resources from our fall 2013 magazine was reviewed by Rethinking Schools curriculum editor Bill Bigelow and Teaching for Change Executive Director Deborah Menkart. Bill and Deborah are also co-directors of the Zinn Education Project, a collaboration between the two organizations..

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Curtis Acosta

If you have seen the remarkable film Precious Knowledge, about the Mexican American Studies (MAS) program in Tucson, you’ll remember Curtis Acosta, the caring and charismatic high school language arts teacher. Despite its well-documented accomplishments and success in reaching historically marginalized students, Arizona politicians set out to destroy Tucson’s MAS program—through House Bill 2281, which singled out this program, and then through a decree from Arizona’s superintendent of public instruction, which ruled Tucson’s program out of compliance with state law.

Rethinking Columbus banned

Rethinking Schools was drawn into the controversy when Tucson Unified School District banned and confiscated our book, Rethinking Columbus, which was one of seven core texts used in the MAS program. We published several blog posts and articles (here and here) on the struggle in Tucson, including two by Curtis Acosta.

Here we publish an open letter from Acosta, announcing his departure from Tucson High Magnet School and describing his new plans to continue his career as a mentor to young people and defender of public education.

By the way, Curtis Acosta will be leading workshops at this summer’s Free Minds, Free People conference in Chicago, and will keynote the Northwest Teaching for Social Justice conference this Oct. 19 in Seattle, co-sponsored by Rethinking Schools.

  - Bill Bigelow
Curriculum Editor

Dear supporters, colleagues, and friends,

Last Thursday my career at Tucson High Magnet School came to an end. It was never supposed to be this way. I always believed that I would leave with a fully gray head of hair and thicker lens than those currently in my black frames. I imagined that there would be a legacy of former students who would take my place and would take our levels of success even further. Instead, I took down each poster and photo from my room with a deep sense of loss and the words of Langston Hughes’ “A Dream Deferred” in my mind. It was as if I was participating in self-ethnic cleansing. (A wonderful side note to this story is that Bob Diaz, a librarian at the University of Arizona, has decided to create an archive of our classroom so that it can live on forever. Have I mentioned lately how much I love librarians?)

However, the reality is that the room and the power of the space were lost far before the pictures came off the walls. This moment was fated as soon as Tucson Unified School District eliminated our highly successful Mexican American Studies program, banning my colleagues and me from our own curriculum and pedagogy, as well as boxing up books. Yet, I would like to thank my students, compañer@s, parents, and the local and national voices that supported us through these difficult years in building up my resiliency and resolve to stand up and never to submit to acts of educational malpractice.

Thus, I am happy to inform you all that a brighter day lies ahead. Yesterday, I held a local press conference announcing that through a partnership with Prescott College, Mexican American Studies lives on through Chican@ Literature, Art & Social Studies (CLASS) where high school youth will receive free college credit. This is a class that was born from the injustices performed upon our students in Tucson and my indignation toward political opportunists using our students, literature, and history to create a wedge issue founded in hate for their own selfish means.

CLASS had a successful first year as a collection of 10 amazing youth, who sacrificed their Sunday afternoons throughout the entire year to rigorously study, analyze, and read the world together. It was a thirst of justice and knowledge that fueled them and they will soon be sharing their voice with the world at Free Minds, Free People in Chicago—a national education conference centered upon education for liberation and youth empowerment. However, our youth need financial help to attend, and although I am using the stipend from Prescott College to pay for part of the trip, it is still not enough. We would be humbled by any and all support and you can follow us now on Facebook and donate here.

Along with CLASS expanding and continuing next fall, I am happy to announce that I have founded the Acosta Latino Learning Partnership, an educational consulting firm that will continue the work that we started in Tucson throughout the nation. It is my vision to help teachers, schools, and educational organizations empower youth to find their own voice and academic identity through culturally responsive and engaging academic experiences.

I look forward to this next chapter of my career as I continue to be an advocate for public schools. After all, we know public education works. We’ve seen it be successful time and again, and as teachers we are honored to be the guides and mentors of beautiful young people who will forge a better nation and world. By following the inspirational leadership of the powerful teachers, students, and parents in Seattle and Chicago, this devious trajectory to destroy public education will end. One day soon we will stop the obsession of measuring our children and teachers with corporate driven instruments aimed at eliminating all of the creative joy from public education. And this is why our work here in Tucson must continue, we must never comply with unjust laws and policies that dehumanize and degrade our children.

Let all the reformers be warned that we are aware of why you want to discredit our profession and the heights that we reach with our students every year. We are more than a budding marketplace or real estate to redevelop, and we will not rest until our children are treated with more love and respect than the banks and corporations of this country. Trust teachers to work with their students, parents, and communities as true partners; support us with resources that our children deserve, and then watch the magic of learning take root and grow.

I want to thank you all for your support through the years and truly believe that great victories lie ahead for communities of color, our students and public schools throughout our nation.

In Lak Ech (Tú eres mi otro yo / You are my other me),

Curtis Acosta
Chican@ Literature Teacher
Tucson, AZ

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Bill headshotby  Bill Bigelow

Portland, Oregon language arts teacher, Michelle Kenney, has written a provocative article for Rethinking Schools about some of her curricular choices—and how what seem like great ideas one moment, turn out to embed troubling race and gender biases. I don’t want to give anything away, because there are interesting twists and surprises in her article. But it doesn’t spoil her story to mention that in one encounter included in the article, a parent insists that Kenney teach Lord of the Flies, a book that Kenney detests because of its pessimism about human nature.

It’s a novel I read as a high school sophomore. I found it engrossing, and spent long hours gripped by the conflicts of the boys on the island. But I remember being troubled by the book, and by its conclusion that invited the reader to breathe a sigh of relief as the British Navy arrived to restore order and civilization. Its message: How easy it would be to fall into barbarism, without …. well, without the guns and uniforms and commanding presence of empire.

It seems that Lord of the Flies lingers as a distasteful memory for a lot of us. In her “Outside In” column in the March/April 2013 issue of Orion magazine, on “The Politics of Play,” Jay Griffiths lays into Lord of the Flies, and argues that, not only is it an offensive book, utterly inappropriate for school, but is also flat wrong in its premises.

Lord of the Flies opens with misadventure,” Griffiths writes, “as the children are stranded on the island. An odiously racist text, it describes the group of boys who become the cruel killers as a ‘tribe’ of ‘savages,’ hunting, dancing, chanting, and ‘garlanded,’ with their long hair tied back: ‘a pack of painted Indians.’”

It’s a testament to the pervasiveness of racist stereotypes in today’s society that this novel wasn’t yanked long ago from high school book rooms. It expresses contempt for indigenous cultures, and embraces a cultural hierarchy, with Western empire on top. Lord of the Flies’ portrayal of humanity’s innate savagery justifies the subordination and loss of “lesser” cultures. It’s an especially troubling message these days as global warming-induced rising oceans force indigenous island people—like those on Kiribati, the Carteret Islands, and Tuvalu—to flee their homes.

Griffiths concludes her column with what she calls “a real-life Lord of the Flies incident”—one that offers the exact opposite message from that of the book. Here’s the story Griffiths tells:

One day, in 1977, six boys set out from Tonga on a fishing trip. They left safe harbor, and fate befell them. Badly. Caught in a huge storm, the boys were shipwrecked on a deserted island. What do they do, this little tribe?

They made a pact never to quarrel, because they could see that arguing could lead to mutually assured destruction. They promised each other that wherever they went on the island, they would go in twos, in case they got lost or had an accident. They agreed to have a rotation of being on guard, night and day, to watch out for anything that might harm them or anything that might help. And they kept their promises—for a day that became a week, a month, a year. After 15 months, two boys, on watch as they had agreed, saw a speck of a boat on the horizon. The boys were found and rescued, all of them, grace intact and promises held.

These days, the last thing we need is a book like Lord of the Flies that offers a cynical portrait of our inner savage—a savage in need of a system of allegiance pledges and bosses and orders and tests and marching in line; all rooted in the fear of “consequences.”

Yes, we know that people can be violent and greedy. But through and through, we’re better off when the school curriculum is built on the presumption that human beings are capable of cooperation, kindness, intelligence, and solidarity. We ought to choose our literature with that in mind, and we ought to organize school life in a way that nurtures those human qualities.

Related Resources

RethinkingColumbuscvr Rethinking Columbus. Over 80 essays, poems, historical vignettes, and lesson plans re-evaluate the legacy of Columbus. Packed with useful teaching ideas for kindergarten through college.
unlearningindianstereotypes Unlearning Indian Stereotypes (DVD). Narrated by Native American children, the DVD teaches about racial stereotypes and provides an introduction to Native American history through the eyes of children.
ChristensenBooks In Teaching for Joy and Justice, Linda Christensen demonstrates how she draws on students’ lives to teach poetry, essays, narratives and critical literacy skills. Reading Writing, and Rising Up is a practical, inspirational book that offers essays, lesson plans, handouts, and a remarkable collection of student writing, all rooted in an unwavering focus on language arts teaching for justice.

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Many of you are familiar with the work of Tucson teacher Curtis Acosta. Acosta is the warm and eloquent—and photogenic!—language arts teacher featured in the film, Precious Knowledge, about Tucson’s now-outlawed Mexican American Studies program. The program is still suppressed, but the work goes on, as Acosta describes in this letter, recently posted to the Education for Liberation email list. Rethinking Schools continues to support this fine program and we urge you to show your solidarity in whatever way you can.

And, speaking of which, if you live near Seattle or plan to attend the upcoming National Council for the Social Studies conference, please join us for the presentation of our Zinn Education Project’s Myles Horton Award for Teaching a People’s History to Sean Arce, a key architect of Tucson’s Mexican American Studies program. Arce will be speaking and showing Precious Knowledge. Details here

- Bill Bigelow

Curtis Acosta

Dear Compañer@s and Supporters,

It’s been a while since I last wrote about the situation in Tucson. However, there are a few links that I felt I should share with those interested in our continued lucha to reinstate Mexican American Studies in Tucson. First and foremost, I would like you all to know that I am still teaching my Chican@ Literature classes at a youth center on Sundays. I have a great group of youth that have joined me. The classes are free and it has been healing to have the freedom to engage in critical dialogue about literature without the threat of demonization hanging over our heads. However, we are only a handful in our Sunday class,  and those good feelings are not balanced by the injustice of thousands of students who are not able to take our courses in their regular public school experience. It is shameful, but we are dogged in our determination to see MAS back in TUSD.

The following link is to an essay that I wrote for renowned author, and personal hero of mine, Ana Castillo. It is a part of her amazing online magazine La Tolteca. I decided it was important to explain in more detail how I used The Tempest in my Chican@/Latin@ Literature classes. If that interests you, please take a look.

How I used The Tempest in my Chican@/Latin@ Literature classes.

Here is a documentary that was filmed about how our classes have been dismantled and the fall out. It’s another unique perspective that may serve as good discussion and dialogue for you and your students.

I hope that we can count on more support for my colleagues Sean Arce and José Gonzalez as they continue to defend themselves against a frivolous lawsuit.

Support the Raza Defense Fund

Since our classes were eliminated there have been many different rumors and such about the future of MAS and the Tucson Unified School District, so I was fortunate enough to be interviewed by award winning writer, Jeff Biggers of the Huffington Post. It was a great way to actually address what the future may bring for us with a  federal desegregation order and plan to be revealed on Friday.

We have two new members of the school board as of last night, and the feeling in town is one of optimism. However, the administration is very much the same and our curriculum and books are still banned. I’m not sure what type of future there will be for my colleagues and myself, but we will keep fighting for restitution of our program. I hope this interview answers any questions you may be having, but if not, feel free to reach out and contact me or my colleagues for further details.

Will Tucson School Board Reinstate or Replace Mexican American Studies? Interview with Curtis Acosta.

We hope you are all doing well all over the country toward liberating and inspiring our youth to not only dream, but to have the will to act!

In Lak Ech,

Curtis Acosta

Tucson, AZ

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Over the years, Debbie Reese’s work has been an important resource for educators. Her website, American Indians in Children’s Literature, is an authoritative source of analysis, and was one of the country’s “go to” sites when early this year Tucson suppressed the Mexican American Studies program and banned books like Rethinking Columbus.

Reese has been kind enough to allow us to reprint her articles in our publications—see, for example, “Fiction Posing as Truth,” in Rethinking Our Classrooms, Volume 2; and “Teaching Young Children About Native Americans,” in the curriculum material that accompanies the DVD, Unlearning Indian Stereotypes.

In Reese’s essay and resource listing below, she addresses librarians: “Too many people think that American Indians died off, due to warfare and disease. When the emphasis in library displays is American Indians of the past, you inadvertently contribute to that idea.” This is worth remembering for all educators, at all times—but especially now as we enter the “official” Native American Month. Debbie Reese is tribally enrolled at Nambe Pueblo in northern New Mexico.

Resources for American Indian Month 

by Debbie Reese

November is the month that the President of the United States designates as Native American Month. Below are suggestions on how you might get your library ready for parents, teachers and students who come into your library looking for materials on American Indians.

In this post, you’ll find links to ALA’s READ posters that feature Sherman Alexie, author of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. You’ll also find links to the Indigenous Languages Development Institute, where you can buy a wall clock with numerals in a Native language, and READ posters in Indigenous languages, available from the Tulsa American Indian Resources Center:

Creating a Library Atmosphere that Welcomes American Indians

In these posts, you’ll find recommended books about American Indians, by age group:

Top Board Books for the Youngest Readers

Top Ten Books for Elementary School

Top Ten Books for Middle School

Top Ten Books for High School

If you want some guidance on how to help students do research on American Indians, using encyclopedias and websites, see:

Resources for Projects on American Indians

If you’re looking for books and materials about boarding schools for American Indians, here’s some:

Boarding Schools for American Indians

If you want guidelines on how to evaluate the content of a Native site, here’s an excellent page about that:

Guidelines for Evaluating American Indian Web Sites

And, if you want to develop your understandings of the ways that American Indians are not “multicultural” or “people of color”, see:

We Are Not “People of Color.”

If you’re looking for a Question/Answer book about American Indians, this one by the National Museum of the American Indian is outstanding:

Do All Indians Live In Tipis?

Did you know that “papoose” is not the American Indian word for baby?

Papoose?

Did you order Louise Erdrich’s newest book in the Birchbark House series? If not, do it today! Chickadee is terrific!

Louise Erdrich’s Chickadee

I’ll close with this:

Too many people think that American Indians died off, due to warfare and disease. When the emphasis in library displays is American Indians of the past, you inadvertently contribute to that idea. Librarians are a powerful group of people. You can help Americans be less-ignorant about American Indians.

Research studies show that American Indian students drop out at exceedingly high rates. Scholars attribute this, in part, to their experience with curricular materials in school. Materials set in the past, materials that stereotype American Indians, and materials that are factually incorrect or highly biased against American Indians, cause Native students to disengage from school. Libraries can interrupt that disengagement, or, they can contribute to it…

As human beings, we love to see reflections of ourselves and our hometowns. They can a source of pride or a boost to the self-esteem. But—that is only true if they are accurate. Native people want that, too, but American society has a long way to go to get there.

Libraries can get us there, but we’ll need your help year-round, not just in November. I hope the resources I share in this email will be ones that you spread out, all year long. If you’ve got questions, let me know.

Thanks,

Debbie Reese, PhD
Tribally enrolled: Nambe Pueblo
Email: dreese.nambe at gmail dot com

Related Resources

Why the Best Kids’ Books Are Written in Blood,” by Sherman Alexie. Rethinking Schools  magazine, Volume 26, Number 1, Fall 2011.
  Unlearning Indian Stereotypes. Narrated by Native American children, this DVD teaches about racial stereotypes and provides an introduction to Native American history through the eyes of children. Useful for elementary through adult education.
  Rethinking Columbus. More than 80 essays, poems, interviews, historical vignettes, and lesson plans reevaluate the myth of Columbus and issues of indigenous rights.

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by Bill Bigelow

This past January, almost exactly 20 years after its publication, Tucson schools banned the book I co-edited with Bob Peterson, Rethinking Columbus. It was one of a number of books adopted by Tucson’s celebrated Mexican American Studies program—a program long targeted by conservative Arizona politicians.

TOP: Some of the books removed from classrooms. BOTTOM: The film “Precious Knowledge” captures the impact and effectiveness of the Mexican American Studies program in Tucson.

The school district sought to crush the Mexican American Studies program; our book itself was not the target, it just got caught in the crushing. Nonetheless, Tucson’s—and Arizona’s—attack on Mexican American Studies and Rethinking Columbus shares a common root: the attempt to silence stories that unsettle today’s unequal power arrangements.

For years, I opened my 11th grade U.S. history classes by asking students, “What’s the name of that guy they say discovered America?” A few students might object to the word “discover,” but they all knew the fellow I was talking about. “Christopher Columbus!” several called out in unison.

“Right. So who did he find when he came here?” I asked. Usually, a few students would say “Indians,” but I asked them to be specific: “Which nationality? What are their names?”

Silence.

In more than 30 years of teaching U.S. history and guest teaching in others’ classes, I’ve never had a single student say “Taínos.” So I ask them to think about that fact. “How do we explain that? We all know the name of the man who came here from Europe, but none of us knows the name of the people who were here first—and there were hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of them. Why haven’t you heard of them?”

This ignorance is an artifact of historical silencing—rendering invisible the lives and stories of entire peoples. It’s what educators began addressing in earnest 20 years ago, during plans for the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in the Americas, which at the time the Chicago Tribune boasted would be “the most stupendous international celebration in the history of notable celebrations.” Native American and social justice activists, along with educators of conscience, pledged to interrupt the festivities.

In an interview with Barbara Miner, included in Rethinking Columbus, Suzan Shown Harjo of the Morning Star Institute, who is Creek and Cheyenne, said: “As Native American peoples in this red quarter of Mother Earth, we have no reason to celebrate an invasion that caused the demise of so many of our people, and is still causing destruction today.” After all, Columbus did not merely “discover,” he took over. He kidnapped Taínos, enslaved them—”Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold,” Columbus wrote—and “punished” them by ordering that their hands be cut off or that they be chased down by vicious attack dogs, if they failed to deliver the quota of gold that Columbus demanded. One eyewitness accompanying Columbus wrote that it “did them great damage, for a dog is the equal of 10 men against the Indians.”

Corporate textbooks and children’s biographies of Columbus included none of this and were filled with misinformation and distortion. But the deeper problem was the subtext of the Columbus story: It’s OK for big nations to bully small nations, for white people to dominate people of color, to celebrate the colonialists with no attention paid to the perspectives of the colonized, to view history solely from the standpoint of the “winners.”

Rethinking Columbus was never just about Columbus. It was part of a broader movement to surface other stories that have been silenced or distorted in the mainstream curriculum: grassroots activism against slavery and racism, struggles of workers against owners, peace movements, the long road toward women’s liberation—everything that Howard Zinn dubbed “a people’s history of the United States.”

Which brings us back to Tucson: One of the most silent of the silenced stories in the curriculum is the history of Mexican Americans. Despite the fact that the U.S. war against Mexico led to Mexico “ceding”—at bayonet point—about half its country to the United States, this momentous event merits almost no mention in our textbooks. At best, it is taught merely as prologue to the Civil War.

Mexican Americans were central to building this country, but you wouldn’t know it from our textbooks. They worked in the Arizona copper mines, albeit in an apartheid system where they were paid a “Mexican wage.” In the 1880s, the majority of workers building the Texas and Mexican Railroad were Mexicans, and by 1900, the Southern Pacific Railroad had 4,500 Mexican workers in California alone.

They worked the railroad, and they worked for their rights. In 1903, Mexican and Japanese farmworkers united in Oxnard, California, to form the Japanese-Mexican Labor Association. As Ronald Takaki notes in A Different Mirror, “For the first time in the history of California, two minority groups, feeling a solidarity based on class, had come together to form a union.” They struck for higher pay, writing in a statement that “if the machines stop, the wealth of the valley stops, and likewise if the laborers are not given a decent wage, they too, must stop work and the whole people of this country suffer with them.”

Nowhere was this rich history of exploitation and resistance being explored with more nuance, rigor, and sensitivity than in Tucson’s Mexican American Studies program. Like Rethinking Columbus, Mexican American Studies teachers aimed to break the classroom silence about things that matter—about oppression and race and class and solidarity and organizing for a better world. Watch Precious Knowledge, the excellent film that offers an intimate look at this program—and chronicles the fearful, even ludicrous, attacks against it—and you’ll get a sense of the enormous impact this “rethinking” curriculum had on students’ lives.

This coming Monday, October 8th is the day set aside as Columbus Day. Let’s commit ourselves to use this—and every so-called Columbus Day—to tell a fuller story of what Columbus’s voyage meant for the world, and especially for the lives of the people who’d been living here for generations. And let’s push beyond “Columbus” to nurture a “people’s history” curriculum—searching out those stories that help explain how this has become such a profoundly unequal world, but also how people have constantly sought greater justice. This is the work on which educators, parents, and students need to collaborate.

***

If you care about nurturing a people’s history and ending Arizona’s ban on ethnic studies, click here to find out how you can take action.

This column was first published at GOOD.

Related Resources

Rethinking ColumbusRethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years. Teaching Guide. Edited by Bill Bigelow and Bob Peterson. 2003. 192 pages. Readings and lessons for pre-K to 12 about the impact and legacy of the arrival of Columbus in the Americas.

The Line Between Us

The Line Between Us: Teaching About the Border and Mexican Immigration.Teaching Guide. By Bill Bigelow. 2006. 160 pages. Lessons for teaching about the history of US-Mexico relations and current border and immigration issues.

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by the editors of Rethinking Schools


Rethinking Columbus banned“Banned in Tucson.”

As many Rethinking Schools readers know, in January Tucson school officials ordered our book Rethinking Columbus removed from Mexican American Studies classes, as part of their move to shut down the program. In some instances, school authorities confiscated the books during class—boxed them up and hauled them off. As one student said, “We were in shock. . . . It was very heartbreaking to see that happening in the middle of class.”

Other books banned from Mexican American Studies classes included Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Rodolfo Acuña’s Occupied America, and Elizabeth Martínez’ 500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures.

We are in good company.

Many commentators focused on the outrageous act of banning books. But the books were merely collateral damage. The real target was Tucson’s acclaimed Mexican American Studies program, whose elimination had long been a goal of rightwing politicians in Arizona. Their efforts ultimately found legislative expression in House Bill 2281, passed shortly after Arizona’s now-infamous Senate Bill 1070, which mandated racial profiling in immigration enforcement. National outrage focused on SB 1070, with barely any attention paid to HB 2281, a law whose origins lay in the same racial prejudice.

The law’s punchline comes in Section 15-112, which prohibits any courses that “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” Tom Horne, the former Arizona superintendent of public instruction and the state’s current attorney general, sums up the law’s curricular dogma: “Those students should be taught that this is the land of opportunity, and that if they work hard they can achieve their goals. They should not be taught that they are oppressed.”

Of course, by “those students,” Horne means Mexican Americans. To assert that oppression is a myth, especially the oppression of Mexican Americans, one must be historically illiterate—or lying. A few examples: The state of Arizona itself was acquired by the United States through invasion, war, and occupation—an enterprise justified by notions of racial supremacy. As the Congressional Globe insisted in 1847, seizing Mexican territory for the United States “is the destiny of the white race. It is the destiny of the Anglo-Saxon race.” A 1910 government report, quoted in the now-banned Occupied America, concluded: “Thus it is evident that, in the case of the Mexican, he is less desirable as a citizen than as a laborer.” Today in Arizona, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty, more than twice the percentage of Mexican American children live in poverty as white children: 64 percent to 30 percent. And Mexican Americans are twice as likely as whites to be incarcerated.

To demand that students think purely in terms of individuals and ignore race, class, and ethnicity is to enforce stupidity as state policy. Moreover, to erase solidarity from students’ conceptual vocabulary leaves them ignorant of how people have struggled to improve their lives—and have made the world a better place. Proposing that we rise purely as individuals—“I think I can, I think I can”—may be a comforting notion for social elites, but it’s simply wrong, empirically as well as morally. Outlawing solidarity benefits only those whose interests are threatened by people organizing for greater equality.

Today’s curricular ethnic cleansing in Arizona is the product of a toxic blend of fear and racism. Here’s Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal on NPR’s Tell Me More: “These issues are going to be huge philosophical issues for the United States as we become—as our whole racial makeup changes. And we need to know that there are a lot of serious concerns about how you educate kids, the values that you pass on to them.”

Translation: Whites are becoming a minority in this country. If children of color are taught to question structures of wealth and power; to think in terms of race, class, and ethnicity; to learn the history of solidarity and organizing; and come to see themselves as activists . . . well, the United States will be a very different place. In his 2010 campaign ads, Huppenthal promised to “Stop la raza.” Destroying Tucson’s Mexican American Studies program is one way he intends to keep that promise.

For rightwing politicians like Tom Horne, John Huppenthal, and Gov. Jan Brewer, it’s not the failure of the Mexican American Studies program that they fear—it’s the program’s success. According to Tucson’s own director of accountability and research, “there are positive measurable differences between MAS students and the corresponding comparative group of students.” Mexican American Studies students score higher on standardized reading, writing, and even math tests than their peers, are more likely to graduate from high school, more likely to attend college, and—a feature that doesn’t show up in the data printouts—are more likely to see themselves as activists.

This kind of education is a threat to those who would prefer Mexican Americans as quiet and compliant workers. Mayra Feliciano, a co-founder of the Tucson student activist group UNIDOS and an alumna of the Mexican American Studies program, told Jeff Biggers in an interview, “As long as people like Superintendent John Huppenthal and TUSD board members are afraid of well-educated Latinos, they will try to take away our successful courses and studies.”

Following one of Biggers’ fine Huffington Post blog posts on the Mexican American Studies program, one respondent, “Tucson Don,” directed his comments to a student Biggers had quoted:

“Hey Chicka, nobody is stopping you from learning about your own culture. But you now live in the US, and you can do that on your own time and your own dime! We Americans want you to learn to read (English), write (also in English) and be able to add, subtract, multiply, and divide well enough to complete a business transaction without needing a computer to tell you that a $1.99 Egg McMuffin plus a $.99 hash browns and free coffee adds up to $2.98 before tax.” Tucson Don and his ilk echo the century-old words quoted above: the Mexican American is “less desirable as a citizen than as a laborer.”

This is the “gutter education,” as the youth of South Africa used to call it, that the Mexican American Studies program was designed to supplant. Those who have read the letters and articles online by MAS teachers Curtis Acosta and Maria Federico Brummer, or who have seen the excellent film Precious Knowledge, know that this is not a program that teaches hate or “resentment.” It sparks curiosity, honors students’ lives, demands academic excellence, prompts critical thinking, invites activism, and imagines a better world.

Its ethos of love, mutual respect, and solidarity is expressed in the poem that has come to symbolize the program, borrowed from Luis Valdez’ 1971 Mayan-inspired “Pensamiento Serpentino”:

In Lak’ech (I Am You or You Are Me)

Tú eres mi otro yo.

You are my other me.

Si te hago daño a ti.

If I do harm to you.

Me hago daño a mí mismo.

I do harm to myself.

Si te amo y respeto,

If I love and respect you,

Me amo y respeto yo.

I love and respect myself.

We encourage Rethinking Schools readers to join the national solidarity campaign, “No History Is Illegal,” launched by the Teacher Activist Groups (TAG) network, to teach about this important struggle. In fact, Tucson’s program should not only be defended, it should be extended: We should demand that local, state, and federal policies support more multicultural, anti-racist education initiatives. As the U.S. school curriculum becomes increasingly shaped by giant multinational publishing corporations, it’s essential to stand up for—and spread—community-supported, social justice curriculum, as exemplified by Tucson’s Mexican American Studies program.

In Lak’ech. An injury to one is an injury to all.

Related Resources:

The Line Between UsThe Line Between Us explores the history of U.S-Mexican relations and the roots of Mexican immigration, all in the context of the global economy. And it shows how teachers can help students understand the immigrant experience and the drama of border life.

A People’s History for the Classroom helps teachers introduce students to a more accurate, complex, and engaging understanding of U.S. history than is found in traditional textbooks and curricula.

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by Jody Sokolower

The day the Tucson school board voted to kill the Mexican American Studies program, I was in Silwan, a neighborhood in East Jerusalem, learning about a different fight to rewrite history.

Jawad Siyam is the director of Silwan’s Wadi Hilweh Information Center. Silwan, he explained to my partner Karen, my daughter Ericka, and me, has a history that stretches back to the time of the Canaanites. More recently, it was for many centuries thriving Palestinian farmland, a main source of food for the city of Jerusalem. Currently the history and the future of Silwan are under siege: Israel has given total power to a private company, Elad Association, which has been systematically demolishing the neighborhood and building an archeological park instead.

In the face of that threat, the people of Silwan have joined together to create the information center, a women’s crafts collective that is producing extraordinary needlework and mosaics, a sports field and cultural café, and a playground.

The Wadi Hilweh Information Center

There are two glass cases in the entryway to the information center: one is filled with artwork from the women’s collective, the other with teargas canisters and other ammunition that has been aimed at the center. We watched a video featuring the voices of youth from the neighborhood. Jawad showed us the house next door, which belonged to his grandparents. Now there are a dozen Israeli flags hanging across the front. As we watched, an armored car pulled into the gate. It is illegal to fly a Palestinian flag in East Jerusalem, so the center flies a “We Love Silwan” flag instead.

Artwork from the women's collective.

At the crafts collective, the women showed us how to make mosaics and pulled out dozens of examples of the needlework they are working on. At the cultural café, we drank coffee and talked with the staff, all of whom have been political prisoners in Israeli prisons. They told us how many kids from the neighborhood were playing soccer and volleyball on the sports field, and the plans for cultural events at the café.

Jody and her daughter Ericka at the Center

We met many amazingly resilient and brilliant people throughout Palestine, but Silwan was special: It seemed so full of hope in a situation that is often filled with losses and desperation. Since we returned to the United States, I have told all my friends, everyone I know, about Silwan.

This morning, one of those friends sent me a URL. “Isn’t this the neighborhood you told me about?” she asked. I opened the link to see a news article from the Israeli newspaper Haaretz: Yesterday the Israeli Nature and Parks Authority bulldozed the cultural café, destroying it completely, and seriously damaged the sports field. “This was the only place in the area to meet,” Jawad lamented, “to sit together. It was the only place for children in Silwan.”

How could this happen? The Israeli government claims that Silwan is the site of the biblical “City of David.” Although this finding is debated by archeologists, the Israelis have built the City of David National Park on the site, destroying dozens of Palestinian homes, a school and a mosque—either through direct demolition, seizure and re-occupation by Israeli settlers, or by digging under the foundations until the buildings collapse.

On Sunday, Feb. 12, the Jerusalem District Planning and Construction Committee approved plans for a visitors compound, vastly expanding the park. By Monday morning, the cultural café was rubble.

Archeology seems like a neutral science. Who, after all, could argue with the importance of understanding the past? But in occupied Palestine, like in Arizona, history and its uses are highly politicized. According to Raphael Greenberg of Tel Aviv University and Emek Shaveh, an organization of progressive Israeli archeologists, “The sanctity of the City of David is newly manufactured, and is a crude amalgam of history, nationalism, and quasi-religious pilgrimage.” Nonetheless, a half million tourists come to the park every year. They watch a 3-D movie that ignores the Palestinian history on the land, and walk down paths surrounded by high walls so they cannot see the Palestinian homes on every side.

Being in Palestine made me think a lot about the United States. In the United States, so much of the history of what came before is long buried. Every once in awhile there is news of a struggle by Native Americans to save a sacred site that is about to become a shopping mall. But in most parts of the United States, the hundreds of years of occupation have erased much of what came before. In Palestine, the fight is much newer, so the foundations of the buildings that have been destroyed are still there—sometimes the whole building or village is still there. And the Palestinians who were forced out of their homes starting in 1948 are still very much determined to return. How does time passing affect our responsibility to right wrongs?

As in Palestine, the determination not to be pushed out, buried, and forgotten is the crux of the matter in Tucson. The Mexican American Studies program is a way of keeping critical history from being erased and buried. “We are still here,” the teachers and the curriculum say. “We are still here, we are proud, our culture is strong. It is something all of us need and can use to build a just future.”

As social justice teachers, we know that justice is the only road to peace. That’s why teaching our students how to think critically about history is so important. And why solidarity is so important. In Tucson and in Palestine.

The Silwan community is determined to rebuild the cultural café by March 21, when Mother’s Day is celebrated in Arab countries. For more information on how to express your solidarity with the people of Silwan, visit the Middle East Children’s Alliance (www.mecaforpeace.org).

Jody Sokolower is the policy and production editor for Rethinking Schools.


Related Resource:

Portland to Palestine: A Student-to-Student Project Evokes Empathy and Curiosity, by Ken Gadbow

U.S. students talk directly with Palestinian youth and learn what it is like to live in a war zone.

from Rethinking Schools magazine, Winter 2009

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